Maggie the Citron Cockatoo had ten homes in ten years, and one of those homes kept her for five of those years. That is the home where I found her. The couple meant well – they may have been the best home Maggie had for all those years – but they were very busy people who were rarely home, and when they were home, it was normally past Maggie’s bed time, so a lot of their attention went to their dog and pot belly pig. She had a large cage in a corner of the living area, and often the people worked nights and slept during the day. They had rescued Maggie from a bad situation – when they went to pick her up, they arrived at the disheveled home and the person refused to let them in. Instead, Maggie was brought out to them in a filthy feces-caked carrier. They noticed that the house smelled badly — a strong, unhealthy stench — and the person mentioned a “trick” he used to keep the bird’s waters clean; he added a tablespoon of white vinegar to the dishes.
Maggie mutilated herself well before the kind couple saved her (no one knows for sure when it began), and they tried everything in their power to help her, but with their life changes they realized that Maggie needed a person with the knowledge, experience, time and funds to care for her. We are not sure how long she was left alone in their living room, but that doesn’t matter anymore. When it came right down to it, they put her first before their desire to keep her. They put a call out for help on a classified ad, and I answered. I was instantly taken by Maggie’s blurry photo: an excited ‘too with a full crest and one wing partially extended for added drama, and a big, hard plastic collar made from the plastic top of a Tidy Cats lid. Her glowing eyes from the camera flash added to the effect. I had to have her, for some reason, somehow I just knew.
When we got there at 9pm on that cold fall night after a three hour drive, Maggie greeted us from her mostly barren cage. As the people told me more about her and how they have been caring for her and handling her, Maggie got impatient and lifted her naked little leg to give me her foot for stepping up. There was a moment where we stared at each other, and time may have stopped for a split second. I had no questions. Pack her cage and let’s go. The cage was large, but had no toys and only a couple perches. There was a big dent in the front door – and these were thick metal bars – as if someone down the line hit it with a blunt object. I was told the cage was purchased that way, so whatever happened wasn’t something that Maggie witnessed. It made me sad regardless. I wrapped Maggie up inside of my coat to protect her from the chill. My husband opened the door for me to walk out with her, and right as we walked out, before the door shut, Maggie yelled, “BuhBYE!!” and I could have sworn there was pure joy in her voice, as if she was saying, “Bon voyage, suckers, I’m outta here!” Despite it being late, and the fact that this should have been a stressful turn of events for a bird, Maggie chattered happily the whole way home, mostly saying “Hi bird, pretty bird!” over and over again in her soft ladylike voice. About an hour into the ride, I whispered in her ear, “I will never give up on you, Maggie. You found your home.” To this day I still believe she understood.
We got home at 1am and set her up for the night. I felt a tinge of guilt for bringing her into a new place so late and having to go right to bed, but as we walked out she seemed content, and in the morning, she would greet us with a “Hello, bird!”
I took her to our vet the same week, and during the examination, the doctor found deep scar tissue on her left wing right on the shoulder area, making it unable for her to fully extend her wing. This is where I noticed she was mutilating the most. X-rays showed thick tissue at the shoulder area and possible joint issues, but the doctor advised removing the scar tissue is a must for her to increase movement, and it must be done if there is any possibility of flying again. Once all other blood tests came back negative and her blood levels proved healthy, we scheduled a date for the surgery. The doctor was right: the surgery greatly improved how far Maggie could stretch her wing, but then the wing would just stop after a certain point. That’s when we realized her joints were fused, possibly from birth as she doesn’t appear to have any signs indicative of injury. My dream for Maggie to be able to fly was crushed, along with my hope that if she could fly, maybe she would stop picking at her skin. But, after the recovery, Maggie was coming out of her shell. My husband and I discovered that when we would grab our IPhones she instantly would stop whatever she was doing, walkover like a bad-ass pigeon and hop onto the culprit’s lap while saying “Hi bird…” in a sweet voice. But if we continue on our phone, she lets out a loud, angry shriek with a purpose. How dare we look at this bright boxy gadget rather than pay attention to the Magbird! She is Miss Boss lady — Miss Queen — and Magnum is the name of her alter ego. We know when the alter-ego is gone (at least for a couple of seconds) when she says “Awwww, magbirrrrrrrd” as she cocks her head to look up at us innocently, awaiting a head scratch. But sometimes the alter-ego only acts innocent if she is nearing a time-out, then, not being able to control the temptation to cause drama, Magnum comes back with a vengeance.
When she knows it is getting close to bed time, she starts making a nervous little hiccup noise. It’s hard to describe, but it is like her version of saying “eek!” During this “hiccup”, she would hunker down for a moment, then come back up — full crest and all— with a resounding “buhBYE!” coupled with a full body wave, one leg lifted and wings extended as far as the fused joints will let her.
She still picks at herself, but nothing like the mutilating she did before. Now she will pick at skin layers on her bald areas, such as her naked neck –no thanks to the hard plastic collars she wore for many years previous – and her finely shaven… Er… plucked legs. Picking scabs is her favorite activity, and if you have them she will find them, along with anything else that doesn’t belong there; moles, bug bites, skin tags and piercings are just a few things on her list. When she isn’t supervised, even for a second (because that is all it takes), she wears fashionable soft collars. She has modeled anything from light pink polka dots, to color-coordinated white, oranges and yellows, to zebra stripes. Whenever she receives a new collar, her eyes sparkle and she struts her stuff as if she was in a fashion show.
I still don’t understand how she had ten homes in ten years; she is the perfect little cockatoo, she is truly special. Her past just goes to show how misunderstood these birds are, and how much we need caring, educated people to help break the cycle for others that are in trouble. We broke the cycle for Maggie — we are here for her forever.